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Clarifications of statute still keep burden of proof on county assessor

October 3, 2013

A county assessor’s attempt to shift the burden of proof onto a landowner in a dispute over a property assessment that increased more than 5 percent failed to convince the Indiana Tax Court.

In Orange County Assessor v. James E. Stout, 49T10-1112-TA-94, the Tax Court affirmed the finding by the Indiana Board of Tax Review that the assessor bore the burden of proving that Stout’s land assessment was proper.

The assessor appealed, claiming the board incorrectly applied the 2011 statute to an assessment that was made for the 2009 tax year. The review board used Indiana Code 6-1.1-15-17 to find the assessor had to prove the assessment that had increased more than 5 percent in one year was proper. Stout’s assessed value ballooned from $8,000 in 2008 to $45,600 in 2009.

Dismantling the assessor’s appeal, the Tax Court pointed out two reasons why the argument failed.  

First, the Tax Court rejected the claim that I.C. 6-1.1-15-17 is not a new statute. The General Assembly established the assessor had the burden of proof in 2009. It subsequently clarified the statute in 2011 but still gave the assessor the burden of proof.

Second, the Tax Court did not agree with the assessor’s contention that for I.C. 6-1.1-15-17 to apply, the assessment and appeal must have occurred after the statute’s effective date.

The Tax Court held the 2009 and 2011 statutes both indicate the burden of proof shifts from the taxpayer to an assessing office when the taxpayer files an appeal to an assessment that increases by more than 5 percent from one year to the next.

“This shift in burden of proof applies to the process and procedure of appeals alone, not to the mechanics of valuing property as of a certain assessment date,” Judge Martha Wentworth wrote. “Accordingly, the statutes apply to all pending appeals regardless of assessment dates.”

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